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Blog: ‘Golden opportunity’ for sport in prisons

Nina Champion is an Alliance of Sport Steering Group member as well as Head of Policy at the Prisoners’ Education Trust. She tells us why this is a perfect moment for the Sport for Development sector to step up its involvement in prisons and help break the damaging cycle of reoffending. 

As most of us know, sport is an ideal hook for learning and education in prisons. Forthcoming changes to the way prison education is organised means there has never been a more opportune time for sport to make a significant impact on education in the Secure Estate.

Firstly, a bit of background: the current prison education system is called OLASS (Offender, Learning and Skills Service), managed contractually by the Ministry of Justice. Under this system, there are four main providers of education in our prisons – Novus, Milton Keynes College, Weston College and People Plus. Since new flexibilities have been brought in there has been an increase in sub-contracting to the voluntary sector.

However later this year, the whole system is changing. Under the new Prison Education Framework (PEF), prison governors are to be given more control and autonomy over their prison’s education budget. This will open up a tremendous opportunity for smaller, niche NGOs, charities and other arts and sports providers, to be able to more easily deliver their service in prisons, offering them something more bespoke and targeted to meet the needs of that particular population of prisoners.

At the Prisoners’ Education Trust, we’ve been pushing for prisons to include more variety and choice in the curriculum. This is now the chance for that variety to be put in place – and there are sure to be many Alliance of Sport members ideally placed to provide it.

Under the new system, prisons will continue to have a main provider who will deliver core education services to a cluster of prisons in a regional area. There are 17 clusters. To increase the variety of provision, those providers can either sub-contract to small, niche providers or governors can contract directly by using the Dynamic Purchasing System (DPS). External education providers can subscribe to this via Bravo Solutions, outlining what they can offer (e.g. a prisoners’ rugby and education project).

So if a governor wanted to provide some sort of sport-based education in their prison they will design a specification for what they want, along with numbers of participants and desired outcomes. Organisations registered on the DPS could then bid for that contract. The DPS contract length is one year, but could be renewed after that time.

It’s most certainly an opportunity that member organisations of the Alliance of Sport need to know about. Members will need to ensure they have the right sort of offer to fit prison governors’ requirements.

Contracting through the DPS could ensure there are more local organisations that work both in custody and the community, which would enable prisoners to continue their learning and sport after release.

For more information on the new Prison Education Framework and joining the Prison Education Dynamic Purchasing System via Bravo Solutions, click here:

Twitter: @NinaChampionPET